The future shape of the EU
Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen presented his views on the EU's future and its economic state in Gothenburg, Sweden. He said that Finland's position in the EU was further consolidated as a result of the country's successful tenure during its EU presidency. Lipponen said that he spoke for strong institutions and, above all, for the position of the Commission.
Practical decision-making in the union has shown that the Commission, in its role as supervisor of compliance with the common rules, ultimately functions as a protection for small nations against the selfish efforts of the big nations. Lipponen said that the North should not withdraw into its own, actual or imagined, excellence.
According to Lipponen, it is also in Finland's and Sweden's interests to participate actively in the construction of the future Union. Organising work involving the future of the Union will be one of the most important tasks during the Swedish presidency. The discussion about the EU's future should not, however, have an effect on the enlargement of the Union, he pointed out. In his speech, Lipponen did not mention the word "federation" and did not repeat his ideas for an EU constitution.
Mad cows in Brussels
In Brussels, EU agriculture ministers discussed what kind of testing should be done in the EU for the so-called mad cow disease, or BSE. Many member states have called for an extensive testing programme. Finland opposes this, together with Sweden, Denmark and Austria.
While nobody doubts the seriousness of the disease, there have been no occurrences in Finland, Sweden or Austria to date, and the current plans are seen as an overreaction to France's recent outbreak.
Finnish Agriculture Minister Kalevi Hemilä is very confident in the safety measures in Finland. Thus, Finland does not consider it necessary to test all cows born before the year 1988, as the European Commission has proposed. It has been calculated that it would cost FIM (Finnish markka) 180 million (USD 25,406,794) to conduct the tests in Finland.
The ministers did not make a final decision, and the matter was passed to the Standing Veterinary Committee (SVC). The SVC expressed that it is in favour of the Commission's proposal that all cattle over 30 months old should be tested starting next year. The testing will include both fallen stock and all bovine animals thought to be at risk of having BSE. Finland, Denmark and Austria voted against the committee decision.
Building a defence
The European Union has decided to establish a rapid reaction force consisting of over 100,000 troops with 400 aircraft and 100 ships. The original decision for the force was made in Helsinki last year.
Troops from the force can be used for peacekeeping, rescue operations and the prevention of conflicts. Finland will contribute 1500 troops and the minesweeper Pohjanmaa to this force. Defence Minister Jan-Erik Enestam says a goal of the Nordic states is to form a joint crisis control brigade by the year 2003. Enestam says that Nordic troops could be used for operations led by the EU, NATO, the UN or the OSCE. Enestam thinks that Norway's participation in crisis management is very positive.
Deciding on referenda
Anneli Jäätteenmäki, leader of the opposition Centrists (Keskusta), says she thinks a referendum should be held in Finland to decide if the European Union is seen as moving towards a federation. She said in an interview in the dailies Etelä-Suomen Sanomat and Satakunnan Kansa that such a change in state structures would be as big a matter as was Finnish accession to the EU, making a referendum necessary. Her own policy on the EU is that it should develop as a confederation, not as a federation.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen opposes the idea of holding a referendum on the construction of a new nuclear power plant in Finland. Environment Minister Satu Hassi recently called for a referendum on whether or not the construction of a fifth reactor should be allowed.
Lipponen stated that the MPs chosen by the people should be responsibile for making a decision when it comes to nuclear energy, pointing out that it would be the same as holding a referendum on the use of fossil fuels. Last week Finnish energy company Teollisuuden Voima submitted an application to the Ministry of Trade and Industry for permission to build a fifth nuclear power unit in Finland. Lipponen says that the nuclear question will come before the government in June at the earliest.
And in other news...
- Helsinki-based Bomfunk MCs was chosen as Best Nordic Act at the annual MTV European Music Awards in Stockholm's Globen Hall.
- Social and Health Minister Maija Perho stated that those with large amounts of income from stock option profits will no longer be allowed to claim such income as a basis for their income-linked sickness benefits or parental leave. This question became topical when some applications based on large profits from stock options would have entitled the applicants to compensations worth FIM thousands per day.
- Negotiations for a broad-based wage agreement between trade union and employers' groups concluded successfully with the announcement of an agreement for a two-year contract. The collective settlement was agreed by representatives of the central organisations of unions and of employers. Now it goes to individual unions for approval.
- Experts say that inflation in Finland is now more likely to decelerate rather than accelerate. The average rate of inflation next year could be around 2.5 per cent, and that of the following calendar year about 1.7 per cent.
- A poll on the Internet shows that Finns quarrel a lot. Only four per cent of Finnish respondents to The Planet Project were of the opinion that they never quarrelled.
- Hundreds of police officers marched in Helsinki for higher pay. Interior Minister Ville Itälä received the marchers at the Parliament, and officers handed over a declaration calling for higher wages.
- A new climate report by the European Union says that Finland could stand to benefit from global warming. Less energy will be needed for heating, grain and trees will grow faster than before and rivers will flow more intensely, increasing the availability of energy, especially in the winter months.
Aleksi Vakkuri, 23 November 2000
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Yle Ykkönen, Radio Suomi